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The wrong perception of poverty

Rashmi Nair, IIK Young Reporter
Monday, March 4, 2019

The wrong perception of poverty

Hello rich people. Don’t be shocked because I addressed you the right way. That is because you are privileged to be sitting on these beautiful chairs of cushions rather than congesting yourself on the roads and streets of any country, where you don’t really know when a car might run over you.

Growing up in the developed country of Kuwait, poverty never appealed to me. I always thought it was the people’s fault that they are in poverty and they were in fact a liability to the country. But when I visited my native country, India, was when it hit me (pretty hard, I can tell). Poverty was spread across. While on one side on the town laid villas and five-star restaurants, the other side was covered with slum, dirt and an array of helplessness. As we travelled from one place to another, I discovered that almost one-third of the Indian population engaged in one activity: begging. We found beggars almost everywhere, whether it be lined in front of temples, nearing parking lots or even when the cars stopped at a traffic signal. All of them had an array of helplessness, a sense of incompleteness and a wanting for a proper life. India, to me, represented a contrast of ideas and thoughts. It was a mixture of poverty and wealth, glamour and dirt, opportunities and disappointments.

Today, the world is progressing rapidly. The world GDP has been rising at an average rate of 3.15% per annum, the median wage of an average worker is steadily increasing at the rate of 2% per annum. In the past 100 years or so, our world has changed from manufacturing- based economy to tertiary-based economy, due to various reasons ranging from improved labour productivity to globalisation. When we look at such wonderful statistics, we are wooed by the fact that our world is progressing. But are we actually flourishing? Can we progress with around 50 per cent of the world still living under $5.50 per day?

No we can’t. Even today, the world’s richest 1% is the ones holding about 82% of the total wealth. Do you think that is a fair distribution? You will be astounded by the fact that poverty is one of the causes of various problems such as pollution, resource depletion and increasing wealth gap. Most of us already know this, but we think of it as an unsolvable issue. We are intimidated by the size of the population under poverty that we don’t think we can create any difference.

Now requesting governments to do something is almost next to impossible. They do always have reasons for their delayed actions ranging from the lack of adequate funds to the vast number of already-present poverty schemes to unemployment benefits. But what they don’t realise and as rightly said by Rutger Bregman and I quote “Poverty isn’t a lack of character, it’s a lack of money.” Many of us might go against this. We might say that the government is providing them everything they want in the form of direct services rather than the poor themselves converting the money they receive into these services. But tell me something. What if an epidemic has hit your city and, God forbid, your entire family was affected. Will these government health services be sufficient for you to cure your whole family? Let’s say that one member requires a treatment in a private hospital as the public hospitals tend not to have the same top-notch facilities as the private ones in many countries. Then how will you be able to afford the payment, without going into debt, if you were poor? Now instead imagine that you had a certain amount of money given to you by the government in the cost of some of their schemes. Wouldn’t you be able to instantly get rid of the problem of the private hospital’s payment?

Some of us might say that the poor are too lazy to work and so they need to find a job themselves and need to learn to stand on their own feet. But imagine a childhood where you were forced into labour to help you family stay live because of which your education was destroyed. The inadequacy of money lead to the destruction of many great economists, social workers or even doctors who now lay within slums working another job because they weren’t able to educate themselves enough. How can you blame a person, who for his entire life might have been in one profession (whether it be begging or sweeping floors) to change his qualifications and attain a job of higher economic value?

The very problem lies in the way we approach the problem. We consider that if we donate some clothes or a few toys to the poor they might be very happy. We consider ourselves as their “saviours”. But we don’t realise that instead of giving away free stuff, maybe money would be the most useful thing to give, because they too are human being just like us, not a charity organisation. Giving them might not require you to take out millions from you bank accounts and donate it off to charity (well you can of course do it willing). But instead an organisation could be formed where we sell our old, wore-out items to other firms. We send old metal for recycling, we sell any old dolls to vintage stores, and the money we get from these we could donate it.

Now many might argue that the amount that we give might be very less? The satisfaction that we get when we donate our old, useless olds or clothes is much higher than when we present them with so little cash. In fact, when compared to the number of items that we intended to send, it would be almost nothing. But we must realise that at least, we are helping some families satisfy their most needed wants rather than just offering some extra things to the people, who we consider to be placed “below us”. The government must continue maintaining the various welfare schemes, but must also set aside some funds for giving every poor a certain amount. But once the income of a person crosses a particular boundary line (which could be set separately for each country) the person will have access to all welfare schemes, but will receive any money from the government.

Our plan of action can be something like this:

•Firstly, instead of donating clothes, books and toys to the poor try and donate direct money because only they know what use those pieces of paper, with much intense value, can serve them.

•Second, try and urge the NGOs supporting them to do the same.

•Now, the question arises, what if the NGOs refuse to do so. It might seem impossible then to solve this tedious problem. But remember there is a solution to everything. Open you own NGO. It might not be easy, but atleast you are doing your part in saving the poor.

•Another thing, we can do is to understand that people who live in particular areas might have common areas of trouble. If we could interact with these people and understand what exactly is troubling them, then maybe we can find a solution to their problem and make them happier.

This might not seem much to do. But I promise you, doing this can make a huge difference in at least the lives of a few people, who live in such terrifying conditions. Friends from across the globe, the problem of poverty might not be easy to eradicate, and I warn you it might even take very long years. But if all of us decide to work together and passionately solve the issue, I promise you that one day, even if we don’t, a generation of ours is going to see a world where there is no poverty and everyone lives happily together.

Rashmi Nair
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Disclaimer:Statements and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and written by them; the author is solely responsible for the content in this article. does not hold any responsibility for them.
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Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Rashmi, It is a nice article. However, you have mentioned that "I discovered that almost one-third of the Indian population engaged in one activity: begging." Is this really an accurate statement? One-third of Indian population means more than 40 million people. Are 40 million Indians engaged in begging?

Also, according to "World Poverty Clock," about 44 Indians come out of extreme poverty every minute, one of the fastest rate of poverty reduction in the world. A recent study published in a Brookings blog says that by 2022, less than 3% Indians will be poor, and that extreme poverty could be eliminated in India altogether by 2030.

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